Baby steps toward better wearables at Computex 2014

Sarah Silbert
S. Silbert|06.06.14

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Baby steps toward better wearables at Computex 2014

Google's latched on to Diane von Fürstenberg as the solution for making Glass fashion-forward, unveiling a collection of frames made by the famed Belgian designer last week. While it remains to be seen whether trendy-colored frames can make a $1,500 wearable more appealing, a few smaller companies here at Computex in Taiwan have some novel ideas that could make you more willing to strap a mini-computer on your face... or your wrist.

To be clear, there are plenty of cheap smartwatches and Google Glass rip-offs hogging booth space at Computex. It's just another sign that wearables are taking off in a big way -- everyone wants in on the game, even if it means producing an also-ran product at a much lower price point. Innovative fitness trackers, for one, didn't make a big splash at the show, with devices like Acer's Liquid Leap mimicking features we've already seen in countless other products.

But even if their tech isn't cutting-edge, many manufacturers showcasing here in Taiwan are paving the way to more innovative design with one-off prototypes. In some cases, that means sleeker and more diverse hardware, and in others, it means clunky, but interesting use cases. We've seen examples of both, and it made trudging through the copycats worthwhile.

Take E Ink, for instance. The company has teased the concept of a full wraparound-display smartwatch several times, but a rep at the show said the design has been prototyped, and he wasn't shy about providing details about how such a watch would work. For one thing, having more screen real estate would let you view more information than on your typical smartwatch, and color E Ink would allow for some neat watch face designs. And, as one Engadget reader pointed out, the sleek design's footprint isn't a far cry from some bracelets, so it could be a more stylish option than the Galaxy Gear, for example.

While getting rid of the watch strap altogether could make for a sleek design with more room for displaying information, one company wants to put the band to good use by adding a lithium-ceramic battery. ProLogium's watchband battery could double the runtime of your wearable, which is definitely good news for anyone who's been disappointed with the Galaxy Gear's or Pebble's stamina.

One of Epson's E Ink watches on display, designed in partnership with wOw Tokyo, is also worth mentioning. It's like the girly equivalent of the Pebble Steel -- there's a delicate, feminine pattern on the band -- with a longer battery life, but no smart functionality, that is. The E Ink screen displays a variety of cute animations and watch faces, including images of London's Big Ben, street lamps and circus tents. Another version, not on display, offers the same concept with a soccer theme. Nothing revolutionary here; just an E Ink watch that serves as an alternative to the standard monochrome aesthetic we're used to seeing.

An attractive design is one thing, but on the other end of the spectrum is an unwieldy, yet novel take on the head-mounted display trend. It's no Oculus Rift, but the PhoneStation literally puts your handset's screen before your pupils, channeling a side-by-side picture so you can watch 3D YouTube hands-free. In its current incarnation, the design is almost ridiculously heavy on your head -- especially when you have a larger phone like the Galaxy Note 3 -- but the convenience factor is pretty obvious.

With a little refinement, such as a lighter design or one that distributes weight more efficiently, the PhoneStation could become a compelling option for virtual reality gaming (just add a Bluetooth controller and you're set). And since nearly all of the tech comes from your handset, the price point would likely be quite low.

As Computex becomes less of a show about Ultrabooks, there's room for smaller vendors from Asia and beyond to showcase quirkier products and proofs-of-concept. And, frankly, that's made for a very interesting few days roaming the convention center halls. Even if you never own a wraparound-display watch or strap a Galaxy Note to your head, get ready to think beyond Pebble and Google Glass -- the wearable game is just heating up.

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